Now that I’m technically a Vancouver local, I am doing my best to feel like one as quickly as possible. Especially for when people come to stay, I want to make sure I’m giving them my personalised recommendations. Eating out is incredibly expensive, so I have a long list of places where I want to eat that we are slowly but surely making our way through. When I’m not eating, I like to be out exploring the city and all the amazing places and activities it has to offer. This blog post will remain a work in progress, so that when I visit cool new places I can later add them to this list. Here are some of the activities I’ve done so far:
Capilano Suspension Bridge: this seems to be a ‘must-do’ on any tourists’ list for Vancouver, but if you speak to anyone who actually lives here they’ll say it is over-priced, swarming with tourists and the kind of thing you ‘only need to do once’. Having now been, I couldn’t agree more. The redeeming factor? With a BC drivers’ licence (which Andy and I both have), we were eligible for an annual pass for the same price as a daily ticket. AND, because we went on the last day of the Canyon Lights festival, we will now be able to go all summer long (when all our friends and family visit) and then again for next year’s festival – at no extra cost! Also, any guests that we take will get a discount on their tickets.
Capilano is an extremely commercial operation. Even knowing this, I still wasn’t expecting it to be quite as touristy as it is. There are designated pathways and loop tracks to take and then facilities such as cafes, restaurants, washrooms and an enormous gift shop. The lights made it truly spectacular to visit, especially doing the tree top walk where we could see the sparkling fairy lights all around us. The bridge is huge, but it definitely was not my favourite part of the experience: there were just too many people and a few too many selfie sticks.
My personal opinion: it’s not a must-do but it is definitely a fun activity. There is a free shuttle running from downtown Vancouver which makes it easy to get to. I am looking forward to visiting again in summer when it is warmer. Hopefully I’ll spot a bear hunting salmon in the river below! If I were recommending it someone, my suggestion would be to try and visit on a week day, earlier in the day – hopefully it would be slightly less busy then.
Stanley Park and the Sea Wall: refreshing, scenic and basically free (depends if you want to hire a bike or not). Stanley Park is enormous. It takes a couple of hours to walk its perimeter, which I have now accomplished a couple of times but to explore its interior is going to take DAYS. There are so many tracks and trails, restaurants, sports facilities and beaches, it is hard to know where to start. We’ve actually picked up a trail map that we have on display in our house, so that we can identify new tracks to try each time we go. It’s absolute heaven for anyone trying to get fit: the seemingly endless trails ensure that you’ll basically never do the same path twice! Another great feature is the ol’ pitch and putt: essentially a par 3 golf course which is great fun for all capabilities, especially with a beer in hand.
The Sea Wall is a 14km long path starting at Stanley Park and winding all the way around the water’s edge ending up at Kitsilano. The easiest way to do this is to cycle, but an extended walk on a nice day with pit stops along the way is also a really fun activity. I am yet to do it from start to finish: at the moment the focus is on just doing chunks at a time. Come summer though, it’ll be a different story!
Pitch and putt is a great group activity and I wish it was more of a thing in New Zealand. The concept is simple: bring your own pitcher, putter and beers. The courses are approximately par 3 holes and there a few dotted about the city. We have one right by us in Stanley Park and there is another good one at Queen Elizabeth park. I love that you don’t need to be good at golf to have a great time, but there’s a little more to it than mini golf (although I love that too). Bonus too that it’s free in winter!
Exploring the ‘burbs is an easy way to pass an afternoon. Each suburb offers something uniquely different and over time I’ll probably accumulate enough content to generate individual posts, but for now it’s just a high level mention. Mt Pleasant and the area around lower Main Street are great for breweries, cafes and shopping generally. Robson Street and downtown is the place to go for chain stores and general shopping and Chinatown for an abundance of delicious food and cheap supermarkets.
Gastown is probably the most touristy area to explore, with good reason. The steam clock draws tourists on the hour (go, and you’ll find out why 😉 ) and there is a multitude of cafes and boutique shopping in the surrounding streets. Some of the city’s most renowned restaurants are also in the streets and alleys of Gastown. It is beautifully lit up at night and the street lights are unique to the area. Stray too far (i.e. onto East Hastings Street) and you’ll be met by a different sort of crowd – a place probably best avoided at any time of the day. (Note, it’s not unsafe per se, just highly uncomfortable).
I’m going to finish for now with a mention about the skiing. One of the best things I have discovered so far: it takes approximately 45 minutes from the moment I leave my house to the moment where I’m setting foot on the mountain. In North Vancouver, there are three different mountains (Cypress, Grouse and Mt Seymour) which locals and tourists alike devour anytime of the day, any day of the week. I love the concept of popping up after work for a quick ski (we’ve done it once so far – I loved it, but it basically ruined me for the rest of the week!). It’s an absolute dream and one of the real highlights of having a car (or at least, friends that do!). Fortunately, Vancouver also offers EVO: a car sharing option which makes these kinds of activities all the more accessible.